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Supreme Court Rejects Challenge by Estranged Daughter

The Supreme Court has overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal in a case which will comfort many in the knowledge that challenges to their wills by estranged relatives will be less likely to succeed.

Melita Jackson had been deliberately excluded from the will of her mother, Heather Ilott, who proceeded to leave her entire estate to charity. Ms Jackson challenged the will and, after a lengthy legal battle, the Court of Appeal has assessed the amount of the award payable to her at £164,000.

Ms Jackson had been estranged from her mother for many years. When her mother died aged 70, she brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The Act allows a person who has been dependent on someone who has died without including them in their will to make a claim against the estate for 'reasonable provision' to be made for them in order to avoid their becoming destitute. Ms Jackson was awarded £50,000 at her first court appearance, a decision that was upheld by the High Court in 2014.

Mother and daughter became estranged after Ms Jackson left home at the age of 17 to live with a man of whom Ms Ilott disapproved. This caused a rift which was never healed and Ms Ilott took the decision when making her will to leave her entire estate to three animal charities with which she had no particular connection.

However, Ms Jackson was successful in persuading the Court that the Act applied to her – a remarkable result given that the two had had no contact, let alone a relationship involving financial dependency, for years.

The result was portrayed in the popular press as a 'bombshell', robbing the elderly of certainty that their wishes as expressed in their wills would be obeyed. However, the Supreme Court's has rejected the Court of Appeal decision, restoring the ruling of the High Court.

When making a will which excludes a potential beneficiary, it is sensible to ensure that the reasons for so doing are made clear: in this case the main motive appeared to be spite.

For advice on the creation of a will which will give effect to your wishes and resist a challenge by disgruntled potential beneficiary, contact us.